Friday, July 23, 2010

Titicaca joke goes here

After La Paz, our next leg of the trip was to spend some time at lake Titicaca. Titicaca is the lake that overflows yearly into lake Poopó, but you´re not allowed to make any jokes about that. It was a very serious job going to our next destination, Copacabana. Since Copacabana is on a penninsula that belongs to Bolivia but is surrounded by Peru, the bus you take from Bolivia has to cross a straight by, um, a ferry, kind of. They mentioned something to us about needing an extra B$1.5 in addition to our bus ticket, so we were expecting something unusual, but it was quite the show, and our 3 hour bus ride turned into an 8 hour bus ride due to the switcharoo at the ferry and some bad weather. The bus was parked at the ferry without any instruction as to what would happen. For the first hour or so, the people on the bus started to get fidgety and some decided to get out and use the bathroom, only to find we had been abandoned in our bus, in a sea of busses, locked in! Someone pounded on the doors for a few minutes until someone outside let us out. We all got out and found that hundreds of busses were waiting to cross but were delayed due to high waves and wind. We hung around in the town for a few hours watching these barges in disbelief that they´d manage to get any busses on them and across the straight. I also got the most amazing fried trout from a street vendor while waiting. Eventually, the waves settled down and the busses started to cross, and it happened surprisingly quickly:
After the busses started crossing, a huge line then appeared in front of the people ferry, which was just a couple of these little tiny 10-man boats that they´d squeeze about 20 people on to. The busses were crossing faster than the people, and we were at the end of the line, so we got to watch our buss cross in front of us, and we started to wonder how they´d figure out how to get all of us back on the bus. So when we did eventually get across, quite a bit later than our bus, we couldn´t find our bus, and we started to wonder how long exactly our bus would wait for us, since we had no instructions when we had gotten off many hours before. Well, we searched for a while and couldn´t see it, so we started following a long line of people walking up this hill, thinking that maybe there was a parking lot up there where the busses wait, but after 15 minutes of that or so (and completely out of breath because we´re at some 13,000 feet in altitude) we started to see the people disperse, so we headed back down the hill, dazed, figuring we had missed our bus (with all our luggage). Just then, our bus came chugging up the hill, we waved it down and jumped in. Things often have a funny way of working out around here, but we did notice two empty seats on the bus that weren´t there earlier, so we thought that maybe there were a few other tourists less lucky than us. When the bus dropped us off at Copacabana, 4 hours late, it headed straight back to La Paz, so I still wonder what would have happened to our luggage if we hadn´t been lucky.

Copacabana was beautiful! It´s definitely a tourist town, but it was relatively quiet and tranquil when we were there. Apparently there are lots of festivals where it explodes in population for a few days at a time, but for us that meant lots of open hotel rooms. We plopped our stuff down in a room and started exploring town. There´s a very steep hill above town, called the Calvary hill or something like that, which has little monuments all the way up representing the different stages of the crucifixion of Jesus. It´s a vertigo-inducing path, but each cross is placed at an elevation that you can just barely make it without fainting from lack of oxygen, so you get these breaks all the way up. There were lots of crosses and shrines at the top and an amazing view of Copacabana:

Back in the town there is an impressive cathederal with a moorish or ottoman-style architecture (with a middle-eastern appearance), and we saw all these cars covered with flowers. We figured there was some special occasion there. Then we saw cars, trucks, busses, every vehicle you could imagine covered with flowers and we started to wonder. Kate then remembered that the cathederal in Copacabana was well known for blessing cars. People come from all over to get their cars blessed. We stopped and watched the priests bless cars with flowers and champaigne, and saw all the vendors along the front sell flowers and saints and trinkets to trick out your car christian style:
Quick note about the showers in Latin America, to clarify an earlier comment about getting shocked. Many of them operate on hot water on demand, but the heater is in the shower head and so it´s somewhat disconcerting to see 240V cable running into your shower head above you. But then you realize it´s well grounded, so it should be safe. Oh, wait, what´s that green wire sticking out of the shower, not connected to anything? Oh, it´s the ground not connected, which leaves the pipe as the only ground, which you have to touch when you touch the metal handle, which is why it is common to get shocked. Now, I have made a habit now of using a dry shirt to adjust the handle while showering, and I try to remind myself that thousands of people seem to survive here in the showers, but I still don´t really like it. This picture doesn´t show it, but our hotel had graciously wrapped the shower handle with red electric tape. A funny solution when I keep wondering why they don´t just wire it up correctly in the first place. But then I guess that´s what you get for the equivalent of ten bucks a night. Otherwise the hotel was beautiful, so I can´t complain too much.

One more goofy interlude here. We´ve taken thousands of pictures of dogs over here, which seem to cover the southern continent, but we´ve spared you from most of the pictures. Many of them like to wear sweaters because it is so cold up in the Andes. Kate saw this one and thought that we had to post this because it was just a little too crazy. He certainly would fit into Kentucky well:

OK, next stop was Isla del Sol, or Island of the sun, where the Incans believed the sun was born. It was a beautiful island with some amazing Incan ruins on it. The first ruins we saw were called the labrynth. It didn´t look like much from the front, but once you got in, you could wind from room to room for hours in what really did look like and feel like a labrynth:
We had been dropped off on the north end of the island and we had all day to get to where the hotels are on the south end (and where our return boat tickets were), and we certainly needed all day. It was a beautiful but somewhat grueling 10 kilometers or so. It normally wouldn´t have been so difficult, but climing those islands was really difficult at that altitude. You´d see really strong, earthy looking hikers climbing relatively moderate hills at a geriatric pace. So yes, the scenery literally was breathtaking:

(sorry really cool picture of the ridge trail got deleted by the dumb computer)
Ok, I admit, there were some cute kids along the way that I paid to get a picture taken with their Llama:

Another Incan ruin along the way with the Cordillera Real mountains in the background:
And there were donkeys everywhere when we got to the town on the south side. It turns out the town is built into a really steep hill and since there are no cars, all the goods, materials, food and water are carried up to the down by donkey.
We went out that evening for a dinner at a restaurant on the ridge and watched the sunset from there:
Ok, now let´s fast forward a little (it´s also getting late and we need to get dinner and a bus tonight, so I need to start being more concise). We returned safely to Copacabana, and after Copacabana, we bussed down to Arequipa in Peru. We paid a little extra for a bus that had a guide who helped us cross the border and change busses, which was very nice since it all happened quickly. It was a relief to come back down to a more reasonable altitude in Arequipa, which is nestled between some volcanoes just below the Altiplano. Here is the sunset at our hotel we arrived at in Arequipa, with a view of El Misti in the background:
Arequipa is known for it´s beautiful architecture made out of white volcanic stone. For a little extra money, but still way less than a cheap dinner at home, you can get a nice dinner with a view of the plaza and cathederal from your seat. Notice we are not bundled up in heavy jackets anymore. That´s because we´re back down to 8,000 feet elevation or so, which makes for beautiful days again and cool nights like in Sucre.
And finally, one more picture of the plaza at nighttime from where we had dinner last night:
We´ll have more stories to come about Arequipa, but we have a night bus tonight in a few hours to Nazca. We´re hoping to see the famous Nazca lines tomorrow, and then head to the resort oasis of Huacachina for a few days of chilling out, sandboarding, and wineries. Then we return back to our hotel in Arequipa for a few more days. We´ve left all our big luggage here since we won´t need the heavy clothes down near the shore where we´re heading, so we have to return here on our way back to Cusco. Hasta Luego!

(by the way, this was posted by jeff, not kate as it states below)


  1. These stories and pictures of yours just leave me breathless and speechless. All I can say is WOW. Oh, and don't be asking me to go on that barge ride. Love you, Mom/Penny

  2. More fun stories and photos. You guys should put all this in a book. I want to read the complete dog chapter! Today Wally and I ferried over to Port Townsend and spent the afternoon with your Aunt Anne, Uncle Ben and Jake with his 3 kids: Carolyn, Michelle and Alex the five year old cutie. Remember he was just a baby at your wedding.